As the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin has long been recognized as one of the greatest singers of hers or any other generation.

Lesser known, but just as important to her Detroit neighbors, is her decades of often quiet charitable contributions to the community. 

It is because of her generous support of the city that The Detroit News is awarding Franklin with the first Lifetime Achievement Award. She was named a Michiganian of the Year in 2003.

As a student at Northern High School, there are stories that Franklin was known to purchase lunch for other, less fortunate students. 

That spirit of giving back was instilled in her by her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, a Baptist minister who moved his family from Memphis, Tennessee, to Detroit when he became pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church on the city’s west side in 1945. His daughter, Aretha, was 3.

Franklin’s commitment to New Bethel has never subsided, even after reaching international fame. He’s never sure exactly when they’re going to come, but New Bethel’s pastor, the Rev. Robert Smith Jr., said he can count on checks of $10,000 from the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer at least several times a year. 

That’s in addition to Franklin’s annual concert she presents at the church, where she brings in renowned gospel singers and feeds fans with a free spread of food. She also sponsors regular Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts for the community at New Bethel, “an Aretha presentation just for you,” she’s called it in the past. 

“It’s her way of giving back,” said Smith, who is working to raise money to have a mural of Franklin painted on the outside wall of New Bethel. “Everything is wrapped around her father and her love for her father and keeping that tradition alive.”

When Franklin was honored by the Grammys in 2008 as its MusiCares Person of the Year in part for her charitable contributions to organizations such as Save the Children and Easterseals, she was singled out for support of churches and food banks in Metro Detroit. The dinner, which included the auction of a pink Franklin-autographed Cadillac CTS for $51,500, raised $4.5 million. 

Detroit journalist Greg Dunmore recalled hearing about the time Franklin shot a commercial for now-defunct record store chain Harmony House, and she donated her salary to a local women’s shelter. 

“She’s done a lot of things for the community that have gone under the radar,” said Dunmore, executive producer and host of “She was always a daddy’s girl, and because of who her father was, she has always had an obligation to be philanthropic.” 

Beyond those charitable efforts, Pastor Smith said Franklin’s impact on Detroit is just as powerful as Henry Ford’s was in his time.

“Aretha Franklin has had such an impact on the community over the years,” he said. “Countless people have been given hope for life because of her singing, and the way her voice has made every guy and every girl feel like they could make it.” 

Or in other words, an “Aretha presentation” for us all. 

Aretha Franklin

Career: 18-time Grammy-winning, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame pop and gospel singer.

Family: Four sons

Why she received Lifetime Achievement Award: For her continuous support of the city of Detroit through a variety of charitable efforts. 

2018 Michiganians of the Year:Cindy Garcia | Remonia Chapman | Rachael Denhollander | Solomon Kinloch Jr. | Candice Miller | John Rakolta Jr. | Mike Duggan | Bryant George | Doug Stanton | Daniel Little


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